From former employees to owners of the dairy, BJ and Autumn Benkovsky, the 2023 MMPA Outstanding Young Dairy Cooperator Runners-Up, have embraced the challenge of taking over Lyon Farms in 2021 after the unexpected passing of their beloved mentor Mike Lyon.
It is not every day that one has the opportunity to take over and carry on the success of a dairy farm. Although unfortunate circumstances have lead BJ and Autumn Benkovsky to take ownership, the couple accepted the challenge without hesitation, doing all that they can to carry on the dairy’s legacy in Mike Lyon’s honor.
“I was working at the elevator at the time, and I had planned on coming back to the farm in July. Then Mike went downhill fast and passed away June 3rd. There was a whole month that I wasn’t here full time because I was still at the elevator,” BJ said.
Obstacles continued to arise for the couple in 2021 as Mike’s father, who was a sounding board for any and all questions concerning the operation, passed in September. Later that winter, a virus travelled through the herd, meaning long nights testing and treating cows. But there was lots of joy to be found in October 2021 with the birth of their first child Olivia.
“The transition was great because it was a huge blessing, but it was difficult”, Autumn admitted. “We’re just now catching up two years later. This past summer, I finally feel content at where we are on breeding and everything else,” BJ added.
OYDC Runner-Ups, BJ and Autumn have fully immersed their lives into making sure this dairy succeeds. “I’m CEO, Chief Everything Officer, breeding, feeding, accounting, the buck stops with me,” said BJ. “I am in charge of the calves. I work a full-time job outside of the farm, and then I feed calves at night, and then mornings and nights on the weekends. I also help BJ milk in the mornings and on the weekends,” said Autumn.
Although Autumn was raised on a dairy farm in Mason, Mich., dairying was not BJ’s initial career goal when he began his studies at Michigan State University (MSU).
“I started working here, in Eaton Rapids, Mich., at Lyon’s dairy while I was going to MSU. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I wanted to do something in ag and I was actually leaning towards the beef side of things,” BJ said. “Ultimately what I came to love about this is that you see the cycle from calf to cow. I was hooked, and for some reason Mike thought I was crazy enough or smart enough, to give us this opportunity.”
Autumn also became close to Mike through her work with the calves. “I was fortunate to be around when Mike was feeding calves because he taught me a lot. I grew up on a farm and I fed those calves, but every farmer has different perspectives and I was fortunate to be able to learn his ways,” said Autumn.
Autumn and BJ speak very highly of not only the ways in which Mike lead by example while operating the dairy, but his innate cow-sense.
“He was so good with cows. BJ said several times he could tell when a cow was going to be sick before it even got sick, his cow sense was unbelievable.” said Autumn.
“I don’t think a whole lot has changed since I have taken over. On the employee management side nothing has changed,” said BJ. “The core value of the farm is to have an impact. There are more ways to do that than having the fancy shiny tractor out front. There are people’s lives that I can have an impact on. There’s more to this job than making money and making milk, it’s having an effect on kids’ lives.”
BJ and Autumn take great pride in not only ensuring that the cows are taken care of, but that their employees are too. It is Mike’s morals and leadership values that have influenced BJ to continue making an impact on the lives of his employees.
“BJ’s doing a lot of things that Mike has done too,” Autumn said. “At Mike’s funeral there were a lot of young people. He was such a good mentor, the people that he hired really needed people there for them, and you could tell that Mike was there for them.”
When asked what motivates the couple every day, both answer that it is their daughter Olivia. “We try to do better than we have before, to always strive to become better,” said BJ.
At his core BJ loves being a dairy farmer. His journey to becoming one may not have been conventional, but he truly enjoys working with his cows.
“It’s not the employees. Not the paperwork. I really do love the cows,” BJ stated. “If the day ever comes that the cows aren’t here, then I would much rather rent my farmland out. The cows are why I’m a dairy farmer.”
Now that BJ and Autumn have settled more into their new position as dairy farmers, they have plans to build a new barn with a much more advanced parlor. “It’s a flat barn right now, we’re milking in the 1970’s here. Everything is in the works to go to a double 10 parallel and slowly grow the 88-cow herd from within over time,” said BJ.
Over a year ago they’ve started using bolus health monitoring technology to help manage their cows on a more individual basis. BJ explains, “They get installed into the animal, and it shows you which cows to dry off, who to breed, what health checks to make, and who’s about to calve.”
The couple also works alongside their nutritionist, consultants, and MMPA field representatives to help them along the way.
“When I first got this position, I was aware that there would be those who will try to pull one over my eyes, but the amount of people that are actually willing to share some of their knowledge and experience has been overwhelming,” BJ said. “We have a community of dairy industry people with plenty of great resources that are willing to help.” It is evident that together the Benkovsky family can persevere. With the right people by their side there is no challenge they cannot face together.
This article was originally published in the November/December 2023 issue of the Milk Messenger. Subscribe »